By PAULENE POPARAD
Landon Rose Cabell of Campbell County, Virginia had vision.
The shrewd land company agent bought over 2,600 acres in Liberty Township
after lands purchased from the Indians by treaties were advertised for sale
at the LaPorte federal land office in 1836. Cabell’s holdings were all sold
to other settlers in a matter of weeks, or even days.
The configuration of Liberty Township didn’t look as it does today. The
northernmost five miles --- in which Jesse Morgan, a later Chesterton
pioneer, founded the Coffee Creek settlement at Liberty’s northeastern tip
--- extended to Porter Avenue. This area later became part of Westchester
Township in probably 1852.
Settlements like Woodville, Coffee Creek, Zane, Salt Creek and Babcock came
and went. Only LaHayne, now Crocker, remains, although it is part of
But the descendents of many of Liberty’s first families still live in the
township, several having attended either Zane (Phares), Salt Creek or
Gossett, Cole, Linderman, Johnson, Babcock, Daly or Crocker schools and
later Liberty Township high school after 1913.
Tim Cole, whose ancestor Edward Cole came from Ohio with his father-in-law,
John Dillingham, in 1835, is among those descendants who still call Liberty
Cole spent nearly 250 hours researching (“some things had not seen the light
of day for many, many years”) and preparing Thursday’s talk about the
township for about 50 members and guests of the Duneland Historical Society.
According to Cole, “Everything is based on history. Anybody who does not
learn from history is missing a lot; they’re not learning at all. This area
held so much promise, beauty and history that few of us moved away. A lot of
Porter county’s history is right up here.”
Cole said four flags have flown over Liberty Township: the Spanish, French,
English and United States. It’s not documented that the Spanish actually
came here although they laid claim to the land; the French did establish fur
trading posts, among them Joseph Bailly’s in Porter.
Indiana became a state in 1816, but a 1826 map clearly shows how little was
known about Liberty Township, then heavily forested with extensive wetlands
and in the hands of mostly Native Americans, Cole continued. Surveyors like
Uriah Biggs in the Hebron/Kouts area made detailed observations which were
contained in notebooks that legally were not to be destroyed. These
contained information about traces of iron ore called bog iron that early
settlers tried smelting into axes and wheel fittings.
Around 1828 surveyors began marking off sections and setting monuments in
Porter County. Liberty Township’s original 1834 survey was done by William
Clark and Sylvester Sibley, said Cole, who displayed a copy on the screen.
There were no railroads and few marked roads, most following Indian or
Among the most well-known roads were the Government Post Road from Fort
Wayne that split north in Porter County to Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and south
to the Mississippi River; the Michigan Road from the Ohio River to Michigan;
a road from north of what would be Valparaiso to Michigan City; the
Chicago-to-Detroit trail; and Indian Boundary Line road, at one time the
boundary between Indiana and Michigan, said Cole.
He also praised Greening Road as significant, scenic and one of the oldest
in the county. Indians were said to walk single file for 2 1/2 days on their
way to Detroit to get gifts from the British.
Following an 1836 government treaty, the Indians were given two years to
move west, said Cole, but not all of them left and some of those who did
returned. Indians, especially the peaceful Pottawatomie, bought or acquired
land and settled for a time in Liberty Township. Cole’s own relatives
recalling playing with their children.
Cole recounted a tale that the Pottawatomie were good-natured but at times
curious to the point of walking in settlers’ homes, rifling through the
cupboards, tasting food and one time walking away with a pot. “It’s not that
they were thieves,” said Cole. “They just had a different idea of property.”
1836 also saw Jesse Morgan, who had lived in LaPorte County, and Richard
Clark named Liberty Township overseers of the poor. Daniel Lyons was
constable. Between 1833-1836 several other pioneers bought land in Liberty.
A miller, William Gossett dammed up Salt Creek creating a pond 1 1/2 miles
long on the township’s west central side where the community of Salt Creek
grew up around it for a time.
Cole said he has a receipt from 1856 for bolts of cloth sold at the Salt
Creek dry goods store. The pond was drained in the early 1900s and U.S. 6
was built near it.
As land was bought and settled, children needed to attend school. There were
eight active one- or two-room schools in Liberty Township for almost 100
years. Cole said in 1900 J.M. Lentz, Bessie Finney, D.D. Hiestand and Alma
Johnson were employed as teachers. Les Esserman, present Thursday, said in
1930 he bought a school building for $960 in a sealed bid. Esserman has a
Liberty school bell and a cornerstone.
Before the first Liberty Township High School was built for about $30,000 in
1913, Cole said the township had a tuition fund to help serious students
attend an area high school. Often those students would board with families
at that school.
Cole said he started first grade at Linderman School in 1945 and attended
five years there. After the new township high school was built in 1926-27,
the younger children marched there across the road for hot lunch in the
cafeteria. Cole’s most memorable school experience was using the outdoor
restrooms because you had to ask the teacher for toilet paper and the whole
class knew what you were about to do.
Liberty Township schools eventually became part of the Duneland School Corp.
Cole said in all his research he could not find an accurate, detailed
account of how the earliest settlers cleared the land, prepared a shelter
for their family, readied the fields and planted a crop, all within a span
of several weeks.
“We look at these pioneers as simple people, poorly educated, without
resources and blind to consequences,” he said. “The immensity of their
planning and preparing overwhelms me.”